Are certain attitudes we develop so ingrained that we cannot easily change them? What steps can be taken to overcome our personal biases and blind spots?
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph tells us about the curse and fate of the sons of Eli the Cohen:
כִּדְרַב שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר אַמֵּי. דְּאָמַר רַב שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר אַמֵּי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן: מִנַּיִן לִגְזַר דִּין שֶׁיֵּשׁ עִמּוֹ שְׁבוּעָה שֶׁאֵינוֹ מִתְקָרֵעַ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״לָכֵן נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְבֵית עֵלִי אִם יִתְכַּפֵּר עֲוֹן בֵּית עֵלִי בְּזֶבַח וּבְמִנְחָה עַד עוֹלָם״.
This is in accordance with the words of Rav Shmuel bar Ami, as Rav Shmuel bar Ami said that Rabbi Yonatan said: From where is it derived that a sentence of judgment accompanied by an oath cannot be torn up? It is as it is stated:
“Therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for with sacrifice nor offering forever” (I Samuel 3:14), which indicates that due to the accompanying oath, the sentence of judgment cannot ever be rescinded, even if offerings of atonement are brought.
אָמַר רַבָּה: בְּזֶבַח וּבְמִנְחָה אֵינוֹ מִתְכַּפֵּר, אֲבָל מִתְכַּפֵּר הוּא בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה. אַבָּיֵי אָמַר: בְּזֶבַח וּבְמִנְחָה אֵינוֹ מִתְכַּפֵּר, אֲבָל מִתְכַּפֵּר בִּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים. רַבָּה וְאַבָּיֵי מִדְּבֵית עֵלִי קָאָתוּ, רַבָּה דַּעֲסַק בַּתּוֹרָה — חֲיָה אַרְבְּעִין שְׁנִין, אַבָּיֵי דַּעֲסַק בְּתוֹרָה וּבִגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים — חֲיָה שִׁיתִּין שְׁנִין.
Apropos this verse, the Gemara mentions what Rabba said with regard to it: With sacrifice and offering, one from the house of Eli will not be atoned for, but he may gain atonement through words of Torah study. Abaye said: Through sacrifice and offering he may not achieve atonement, but he may gain atonement through acts of kindness. The Gemara relates that Rabba and Abaye themselves descended from the house of Eli. Rabba, who immersed himself primarily in Torah study, lived forty years, while Abaye, who immersed himself both in Torah and acts of kindness, lived sixty years. They both lived longer lives than usual for descendants of the house of Eli, due to their actions.
The Maharsha explains that the three pillars of the world are Torah, Worship and Acts of Kindness, as described in Avos 1:2. Therefore, the rectification and preservation of the descendants of Eli such as Abaye and Rava could be accomplished with these pillars, Torah and Acts of kindness. However, Worship was no longer accessible as a form of atonement, despite being one of the three pillars, as the verse stated, “The iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for with sacrifice nor offering forever.” The question is why?
Maharsha says, since the sons of Eli sinned through worship, אין קטיגור נעשה סניגור the prosecutor cannot become the defender. That is, the sons of Eli burned this bridge; sacrifices could not be used to atone any more.
I wonder what this really means. After all, it could be argued that the most wholesome rectification and healing should come from the very source of the violation! Indeed, I presume that is why Torah and acts of kindness are especially significant, because they are related to Worship, in some fashion, as they are one of the three pillars. I believe the answer is that while technically this may be true, it is hard to overcome cynicism. The sons of Eli created a sense within themselves of disdain for Worship. It is against human nature for them to fully achieve this repair in their attitude via Worship itself, and so too for the descendants to counteract this family legacy.
Of what practical significance is this idea? If a person has disrespected something, it may be difficult to repair that disrespect simply by an act of will or contrition. The cynicism created within might not allow for full repentance. Following this model, a person should rather choose a closely related venue to enact the repair, aside from repairing the original disrespect. For example, let us say a person betrayed their spouse deeply. While of course it is important to apologize and repair, it might not be sufficient or achieve enough resolution. Based on this, working on other loyalties that were betrayed or heightening a sense of loyalty to other family members or friends might be an important supplement to correcting this trait.
Take caution though, given the sense of betrayal, it would be taken wrongly to inform the spouse that this is what you are doing, since he or she would feel it to be a deflection and distraction. The spouse probably wants you to apologize and make it up to him or her. This is more about the personal process of redemption and correction. For your own growth, it may be necessary to recognize that a different path for change is necessary to overcome biases and blind spots.
Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation .)